I’ve already declared my love for vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz. When I’m looking for a vegan (read: healthier) version of any recipe, her cookbooks are where I turn to first.
My friend Courtney and I recently went on a “girl’s day out” to Omaha, to check out an Andy Warhol exhibit at the excellent Joslyn Museum and Isa’s new restaurant, Modern Love.
The restaurant is nestled next door to O’Leaver’s Pub, one of the best clubs in Omaha to get your rock ’n’ roll on. It’s a quintessential dive bar, but in a good way. We were a little early for our reservation, so we stopped by O’Leavers for a quick beer to whet our appetites.
Modern Love’s décor is cute and comforting, with a side of zany kitsch, much like Isa’s beloved vegan cuisine. The logo is a radish cat, or rather, a little radish with kitty ears! Does it get more precious than that?
Isa herself greeted us at the host stand, which was a lovely surprise. She always appears warm and friendly on her cookbooks, and in person she was genuinely happy to welcome us. Courtney had a moment of vegan fangirldom but quickly regained her composure as Isa sat us in the second of the restaurant’s small dining areas. The main dining area is modern and upscale, with graphic wallpaper and eclectic, mismatched mirrors. The room where we were seated felt intimate, with several two-top tables nestled side by side against a long banquette and one larger table for groups of 6-8.
The restaurant was packed when we arrived, so reservations are highly recommended. We weren’t surprised to see one of Lincoln’s best vegetarian chefs, Maggie, of Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe, dining at Modern Love as well.
Courtney, who’d been to Modern Love once before, was raving about the Fried Green Tomatoes. Alas, no tomatoes, as the restaurant’s menu is seasonal and changes often. Instead, we started our meal with crispy Potato Latkes with Coconut Sour Cream. Crunchy on the outside, with a soft, delicate interior, the latkes hit the spot on a chilly autumn evening.
Next up, our mains. Before we get into the details, let me tell you about a weird Nebraska thing: we love to eat our chili with cinnamon rolls on the side. The tradition may go back to the cinnamon rolls that used to be served at a famous local department store, Miller and Paine.
Isa has embraced this Nebraska tradition with her Chili and Cinnamon Rolls. Studded with chunks of squash, the lentil and bean chili is infused with warming spicy and smoke flavors and comes adorned with dollops of coconut sour cream and chopped green onions. Isa’s cinnamon roll is warm, sweet and surprisingly buttery. The best way to savor this dish is to follow each spoonful of chili with a bite of pillowy cinnamon and sugar-drenched pumpkin pastry.
I ordered Isa’s take on a Korean classic, Bimimbap with Citrus-Glazed Tempeh. This dish is all about texture. Sticky rice and smoky grilled tempeh come adorned with an inspired array of charred Brussels sprouts, pickled radish, tempura fried shitakes and housemade kimchi. The spicy citrus sauce accompanying the plate was so good, I wanted a bottle to take home.
We were pretty full by this point, but knew we would regret not trying one of Isa’s vegan desserts. We were tempted by pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and apple pie with vanilla bean ice cream and salted maple caramel, but decided on the sundae instead.
This wasn’t just any sundae, but a Rocky Road extravaganza: two scoops of creamy cashew ice cream topped with gooey hot fudge, toasted marshmallow, coconut whipped cream and a cherry. Mind = blown.
The Omaha dining scene is thriving, and Modern Love is a welcome addition. Sure it’s vegan, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying out Isa’s creative take on comfort food.